I know I must be getting older when I say things like "things used
to be different in the old days". Especially when I wasn't even alive
during the days I am referring to. And I am not talking about how I used
to walk uphill to school in the snow both ways. I am talking about the
fact that it is pretty difficult for us to feel like we are among friends
or family anymore. Most of us don't know our neighbours. A coworker may
be the next victim of downsizing, so why bother to get to know her? Families
live far away and we rarely see the ones we are apparently related to.
I know better than to expect people in a crowd to remember my face or
who I am, but I wonder if even regular smiles are getting harder to come
by. I went to one store this week where the counter person was reading
through her personal bills. All of the mail was sprawled out across the
counter and the girl didn't even acknowledge my existence. After some
time passed, I did the "ehm" cough and asked if she was available
to help. If looks could kill, I would have fallen right under the counter
at that very moment. She seemed very displeased with having a customer.
She did ring my order through, took my money, and went right back to reading
I concluded that this was just one person unhappy at her job and, who
knows, maybe she just found out that someone stole her identity and charged
up thousands of dollars on her account. Yikes. I would have been distracted,
too. Then I went to another store the next day and the same thing happened.
This clerk and the other one could have been sisters, except that this
one was reading through a Christmas catalogue (not the one of her employer).
Same disgust on her face, same lack of interest.
If this occurrence only happened in stores, maybe that wouldn't be so
bad. Unfortunately, it seems that we are getting much too busy and much
too concerned with efficiency and productivity (after all, if you have
divided your salary by the number of hours you work and found out that
your time is worth $45 an hour, are you willing to "waste" $22.50
of your time listening to your coworker's personal problems?). If we can
multitask, we do. Buy groceries and finish a business deal on the cell
phone. Talk on the headset phone to a child's teacher while doing bills
online. In the end, we get more efficient and less effective at the one
thing that matters the most to us - people connections.
Does it need to take too much of our time to do otherwise? Not all all.
Sharif at Sharif's Java Cafe, a small coffee shop in Stanford, Connecticut,
taught me that. After stopping there and asking for an espresso, my fiancé
and I were treated to a show. Sharif, with a big smile on his face, presented
us with about 15 different varieties of coffee, explaining the origin
and virtues of each. Then he lamented how people in America are unwilling
to wait 15 minutes for the perfect espresso, and took out a blow torch
which he used to speed up the espresso-making process. He chatted to us
about his family from Lebanon. He made us laugh with jokes that he probably
said 50 times that day already, but he made us feel at home. We meant
to just grab some coffee to go. Instead, we felt like we were leaving
knowing a new friend.
I would hope that Sharif could take a long tour around North America
and remind us all once in a while that it doesn't take too much more of
our time to smile, to get personal, and to serve up an experience that
makes us feel right at home. Couldn't all of us use a bit more of the
kind of care that coming over to Grandma's house and stretching on the
couch with a cup of milk and a bowl of warm cookies used to do for us?
How about throwing that blanket of friendship over others even throughout
the mundane times of our days - while on the phone with the bank teller,
while waiting for a coworker to finish his 200 copies, or instead of staring
intently at our feet while the elevator is making its way up to our floor?
Smile at someone. If you're brave, even start a conversation. A simple
"so, how's your day going today?" will be just enough. I bet
that if we all started noticing each other just a bit more today, North
America would need to spend a lot less on psychologists, road-rage accidents
Happy connecting, sunshine and smiles,
"What we see depends
mainly on what we look for."
good to have money and the things money can buy, but
it's good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure
that you haven't lost the things money can't buy."
George Horace Lormier
""Kindness is the
language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."